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Standardized Tests - Behind The Scenes & Calls For Reform

Shelley Kofler

Standardized testing in Texas: Are changes on the way? And what happens to the test papers when students have filled in the last bubble? How do you teach the bible in public schools without promoting a religious viewpoint? The Texas Legislature tries to figure out education funding (again), and now that the president has been re-elected for a second term, Latinos are asking about immigration reform.

The Call to Reform STAAR Testing Growing Louder

State lawmakers are preparing to file a slew of bills that could change the way students are tested and the way school districts are graded.

The lightening rod in the whole debate is the new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) end-of-course exams. KERA’s Shelley Kofler visited the Arlington School district where there’s a loud cry for reform.

  • In a related story this week, teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle are boycotting their district's standardized test, which they have to give in addition to the Washington State standardized exams: Seattle High School's Teachers Toss District's Test

What happens after standardized test?

After the students leave, the test papers are gathered, sealed in a special package and sent off where are they sent? Who grades them?

Todd Farley's new book explores behind the scenes of the standardized testing industry.

For years Todd S. Farley worked in the standardized testing industry as a grader and he wrote a book about his experiences called "Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry."

"In your state of Texas -- for one question -- if there's a hundred thousand students that answer a question then all hundred thousand of those need to be scored, and they supposedly need to be scored in a standardized way. The only way you can do that is establish these sort of rigid rules that become absurdist in the end. In my book there are numerous instances of me standing in front of a group of a hundred scorers trying to get them to score in a standardized way when you are dealing with fourth graders."

Can the Bible be taught without religious bias?

They say as long as we have tests in school, there will be student prayer in school, but what happens when the test is about the Bible?

It’s been five years since the legislature passed a law that allows the Holy Book to be studied in Texas classrooms. The reasoning is that the Bible is a significant work of literature and history and is dominant in our culture. But a new study finds that some of these Bible classes are being taught with "blatant religious bias" in violation of the 2007 law.

The report is from the Texas Freedom Network and was written by Southern Methodist University professor Mark Chancey.

"We found some school districts -- 11 in particular -- that were very rigorous academically and were very careful in not promoting any particular religious viewpoints over others. Most other courses had problems of different degrees, and 21 courses were especially problematic; they were typically taught from a Sunday school perspective more than a public school perspective."

Chancey said that the study looked at 57 public school districts and 3 charter school districts who are all bound by the same regulations on this subject.

"One school district included in its materials a religious tract claiming that NASA had found a missing day in time that shows that the sun stood still just as reported in the biblical book of Joshua."

Texas Legislature and education funding

The Texas Legislature got its first look at the new budget this week – the draft budget looks grim despite the projected revenue surplus. Thus far the education funding cuts from two years ago are not restored. And there are zeros where the funding should be for standardized testing. That could effectively kill the STAAR tests, but as Harvey Kronberg of the Quorum Report explains, that’s not expected to be the case.

Mr. President, so how about that immigration reform...

The Texas legislature is taking some extra time off this week because of the Presidential inauguration. Many of the state’s Democrat lawmakers have jetted off to Washington D.C. to join the massive celebration.

Also celebrating will be many of the Latino celebrities, public officials and community leaders who worked on the Obama campaign, and who now hope to be rewarded with comprehensive immigration reform. 

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi